The holidays are right around the corner. Are you exhausted before they even begin? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the cooking and cleaning, not to mention the claustrophobic feeling of having a lot of family members in just a few rooms in your home? You are not alone.
There are ways to use and strengthen the gift of hospitality this holiday season without the pressure of a 4-course meal and a perfectly spotless home.
Here are ten ways to shift your perspective on the concept of hospitality, just in time for Thanksgiving:
1. Hospitality Doesn’t Mean You Clean the Whole House and Buy All the Food
You don’t have to do everything to be hospitable. If there are parts of the dinner you find tedious or hard to perfect, ask your guests to come to help. Maybe they can come to dinner with a side. One person can bring the potatoes, one can come with the dessert, until all parts of the dinner are covered.
Hospitality doesn’t mean guests come empty-handed. In fact, allowing your guests to contribute helps them share the blessing of being hospitable, too. Help shift the perspective that hospitality is a lot of work and overwhelming, to a manageable gift and blessing not only to ourselves but also others.
2. If You’re So Focused on the Prep That You Miss the People, You’ve Missed the Heart of Hospitality
The story of Mary and Martha demonstrates how quickly preparations for guests get in the way of the beauty of hospitality. Don’t allow dinner prep to derail the purpose of the holidays — to give God thanks for all of his many blessings.
What if, in between mashing potatoes and basting the turkey, you grabbed your journal and wrote down all the blessings you can remember? As you set the table, say a quick prayer for each person who will eat around it. As you open your door and embrace your guests, take a moment to look them in the eye and tell them how truly glad you are that they are spending their day with you.
Don’t get so wrapped up in the preparations that you miss the point of hospitality – to love others out of the abundance of love God has for you.
3. If You Don’t Feel Vulnerable When You Practice Hospitality, You’re Probably Not Doing It Right
Church culture today lends itself to walking quickly in and out of church, smiling weakly at friends, answering with a quick “fine” when asked how we are, and trying hard to hide the awkward, less than perfect side of ourselves.
But it’s harder to hide when we invite others into our space. Try as we might to hide all trace of our flaws, there are inevitably still cobwebs in the corner, our less than perfectly coiffed hair and our bickering kids in the other room.
When we let people into our homes, we’re opening ourselves up to being seen in a deeper, more real way. If you don’t feel just a little bit vulnerable, you’re probably not practicing true hospitality.
4. Hospitality Is More Than Just Eating Together
We often think about hospitality as eating a meal with each other. While this is wonderful, there are other way to demonstrate hospitality—without a home and without eating. Set up a game night and go over a friend’s home or set up an event at your church.
Host a coffee night at church or your home. Get crafty and have people over who like to scrapbook, knit or crochet. Your guests can invite a friend to come who would like to learn a craft and those that have practiced their craft for a long time can teach it to the guests. If cooking isn’t your think, invite people to join you in whatever your “thing” is.
5. Consider Sharing Your Testimony during Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for how God has blessed you, over the past year and over a lifetime. Why not invite others to joining you in sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness and generosity, both this year and throughout your lives. Go around the table and name one (or more) ways you have seen God at work in your life.
You can get creative and put a piece of paper and pen by each place setting. Let each person at the table write down one blessing they want to thank God for. Fold it in half in a way that serves as a place card in front of each plate. Instead of a person’s name, people sit down and read other people’s blessings.
6. Hospitality Might Mean Caring for the People Who Frustrate Us Most
With the pressures to create the perfect day, the hospitality you want to display quickly shifts from others-centered to self-centered. However, hospitality is about others, not ourselves. If there are family members that cause you stress, do something about it.
Make a list of the reasons why that person triggers stress. Find Scripture to combat the deep-seated roots of emotion that cause you not to be the light to the world you were meant to be.
7. Consider Hosting Non-Family Members on Thanksgiving
Hospitality is more than just having family over for dinner, although someone can certainly demonstrate hospitality in this way. Is there a family in the church or in your neighborhood that has nowhere to go for dinner? Would you prayerfully consider hosting them in your home? Jesus frequented people’s homes, and not just those of his disciples. Sometimes it was the most unlikely of people with whom he chose to dine. Even though a family may look, act or talk differently than you, could your home be the place where you demonstrate Jesus the most?
8. Instead of Serving a Meal, You Can Find Other Ways to Serve
When my husband and I planted our church, we wanted to gain a reputation in the community as a church who met the tangible needs of our community. Each year when Black Friday arrived, my husband and a group of men from the church would bring a red wagon carrying several large coffee carafes filled with hot chocolate and coffee and handed them out to the many cold and tired consumers waiting in line to get the next big Black Friday deal. Year after year they came, and the once skeptical refusers of the hot beverage quickly became the eager receivers. Hospitality can mean what you give to others. What can you give to your community that would help you gain a reputation of being someone who meets needs in a tangible way?
9. Instead of Providing One Fancy Meal, Try Providing 10 Practical Meals to a Family in Need
While it is great to share Thanksgiving with family, you can certainly use part of the day to bless those less fortunate. Soup kitchens are always looking or extra help around the holidays to handle the increase of people looking for food during this holiday. If you don’t have a soup kitchen nearby (or don’t feel comfortable serving in one) try a food pantry.
Even if you don’t interact with people, you can stock shelves, handle the finances, etc. This is a great way to give back to others and be the hands and feet of Jesus on a holiday where those less fortunate can feel especially lonely and isolated.
10. You Can Do Hospitality by Yourself in the Form of Thank You Notes
While you may not think of hospitality as writing thank you notes, remember that hospitality is an overall attitude to embrace—not just having people over. Life is short. The bible talks about life being like a vapor—here today and gone tomorrow. Why not take a moment to write a personal handwritten note to those you care about most?
Wait a week after your guests leave and write one trait or characteristic you love most about that guest. Does that person display unflinching courage in the face of adversity? Does someone show kindness and grace to people who far from deserve it?
Handwritten notes are a thing of the past. But you can show hospitality by sending them each year. Your guests will come to love them—and expect them each year as a highlight of your time together.
This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself to see the holiday not as something to survive, but something to thrive in. Expand your mind and shift your perspective to not one day to bless others, but a day to bless people in ways they would not expect. When you do, rest in the fact that you are demonstrating Jesus through your gift of hospitality.
Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. Winner of the Golden Scroll Children's Book of the Year, the Enduring Light Silver Medal and the Maxwell Award, she is a member of the Christian Author's Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She is also an associate literary agent with Wordwise Media Services. For more information, please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.